London (AFP) - Maritime archaeologists said Friday they have begun excavating the wreck of a Dutch ship that sank off the English coast in 1740, recovering leather shoes, silver and the bones of its lost crew.
The Rooswijk, a Dutch East India Company ship, was on its way to what is now Jakarta when it went down with around 300 people and a large cargo of silver ingots and coinage aboard.
Following its discovery in 2005, most of the precious goods were removed, but a full excavation is now underway due to concerns it could be destroyed by shifting sands and currents.
Remains of some of the sailors who perished have been found preserved on the seabed 26 metres (85 feet) down, along with more coins, leather shoes, an oil lamp, glass bottles, pewter jugs and spoons and ornately carved knife handles.
"It's a snapshot of a moment in time," said Alison James, a maritime archaeologist at the Historic England cultural agency, while one her colleagues said it was like "an underwater Pompeii".
The items brought ashore for conservation also include wooden seaman's chests which will be x-rayed to see if they are contain cargo or personal possessions.
James told AFP it was a remarkable site: "It's incredibly well-preserved, it's a very early wreck and there's a lot of material on the seabed."
The wreck is under the legal protection and management of the British government, although the excavation is led and financed by the Dutch government, which also owns any finds.
The project is the largest of its scale on a ship from the Dutch East India Company, which lost a total of 250 vessels to shipwreck -- of which only a third have been located.